Recently someone asked me for advice on the logistics of study abroad. I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain during the Fall 2014 semester. I studied history, worked on my Spanish and traveled to Belgium, Morocco and Portugal in addition. Because I am history major, it is my nature to do lots of research before nearly anything I do, study abroad was no different. I am happy to share what I did about phones and money and other logistics while abroad with you, in case you are preparing for study abroad either now or in the future. I will share my suggestions based on about 3 months of research preparation. Having been returned from my time abroad, I am happy to say that in all of these things I was successful and I never lost (or had stolen -) a single thing!
I will be doing these blogs in parts. This first one will be about phones.
Note: all of these suggestions are made with the idea that you want to save the most amount of money. If money is not an issue for you, lucky you!
Here in the USA, we are so connected all the time to our devices. Depending on where you study, this may not be the case or perhaps more so. Either way, you will need a way to keep in touch with friends/family back home and a way to make plans with all your new friends. It was important to me to be able to talk to my family on a regular basis, just in case I would need to. So, before I left I asked my family to download Viber. It is an app that uses data or wifi to make phone calls and send texts nationally or internationally. I decided to download this app over others because unlike others, it is free and unlimited. The voice calls do have a computer sounding tone to the calls. It does not sound like your usual phone call, but it is definitely clear and usable. Using an app to make phone calls is much cheaper than making international phone calls, every time.
Luckily, my closest friends and family agreed to download the app and I was able to talk to them without any issues. Many of my other friends who I wanted to keep in touch with, I would text using imessage. Again, luckily most of my friends have iphones, but for those who didn’t I would facebook message and it was never an issue. Texting this way versus an international phone plan is always cheaper as well. The international phone plans add up very quickly. I just had to change my habits and there was never a time I could not get in touch with someone I wanted to. When I arrived in Spain, I realized very quickly many people there use the app Whatsapp to communicate rather than send texts. I downloaded the app almost immediately and used to it to communicate with my host mom and friends. For both of these apps I used my american phone number to activate that way I could use my contacts from my american phone and add any new Spanish phone contacts.
I used these apps on my own phone. I have an iphone that is globally prepared, so all I had to do was purchase a Spanish sim card. You can look up a youtube video on how to change a sim card using a paperclip and it’s easy to do. I recommend this if the country you are going to is a place where many people have iphones, otherwise it may be a target for theft. In Spain iphones are not as popular as they are here, but they are not unusual to see. I purchased an Spanish sim card from realcom. The program that I went with had a special deal with them that allowed for no contract fee, month to month pay as you go and unlimited data. This means that my phone bills were almost $0 each month, because I was paying no contract fee and I was using just the apps with free unlimited data. The only issue I had with this was plan was that any data or calls or texts used outside of Spain cost more. So, when I traveled outside the country, which was usually just for a weekend. I tried to limit my usage to when I had free wifi. There is not as much free wifi other places as here in the USA, but it is possible to find places. There is an app for that too! Some of my friends only ever used wifi even in Spain. This is very doable if you only want to use your phone to check in every now and then. I only used my data if it was an emergency. Even in cities I had never been to before, directions were easy because I would download maps online first or pull up the city on google maps before I lost connection. The map is still active after you have lost connection, if you pull it up when you have data or wifi.
If you do use your own phone, be sure to have insurance on the phone in case anything happens. If this is something you are concerned about, maybe it is better to get a cheap phone that comes with a plan in which it is easy to replace while you are abroad. In the end, you just need to choose the best choice for you. Feel free to ask any questions. I know it can be a scary time, but it is way more exciting (I think).